Seven Years, and STILL Going Strong: What Makes the ATH-M50x Special?
Old is Gold: Legendary headphones indeed
- Although they were launched in January 2014, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X remain a very popular option for anyone looking for a good pair of wired headphones.
- The main reason for the success of the headphones has been their fantastic build quality, and of course, their signature sound.
- They might be seven years old, but rare is the audio expert or even amateur music lover who has never heard or used one of these.
They say that a year is a long time in technology. Well, this piece is about a gadget that has been around for almost SEVEN years. That’s right, seven. It has been almost SEVEN years since it, or rather, they were launched. For a bit of context, when this product was launched: Windows 10 had not been released, the PS4 was just two months old, the TWS and smartwatch segment did not exist, the latest iPhone was the iPhone 5S, Google had launched the Nexus 5 a few months ago, and Android was at version 4.4 (KitKat). This product was launched on January 23, 2014. And is so popular that earlier this year, the company launched a campaign to get people to vote on a new color for the device.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x: Seven years young!
We are talking about the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones. Or to give them their full official designation – the ATH-M50x Professional Monitor Headphones. Audio-Technica officially unveiled them on January 23, 2014 (you can read the press release here if you find that difficult to believe). And they were an upgrade to the very popular ATH-M50, which itself had been around for a while.
And they got to be SO popular that Audio-Technica actually conducted a campaign earlier this year around a poll about the color of the next Limited Edition of the headphones should be. That Limited Edition incidentally is EXACTLY the same pair of headphones that was launched in 2014, with the color being the only change.
How epic (and I do not usually use the term) is that? Yes, headphones often have a long lifespan, but even by those standards, this is staggering. Of course, hundreds of headphones have been launched since, but you still see these everywhere. And it is not because they are super low priced either – their original price was close to Rs 18,000, and even today, they retail for about Rs 10,000 – Rs 12,000, with some special color variants being priced close to Rs 15,000.
Which, of course, begs the question: what makes the ATH-M50X so special?
The next time someone makes fun of “plastic,” show them these!
Well, the answer is simple: rock-solid build as well as sound quality. Let me start with the build. There will be those who will mutter “plastic” when they see them, but the fact is that these headphones are among the most sturdy around. I have had mine for over two years, and a friend has one that is almost five years old, and they seem immune to wear and tear.
The cups are large and revolve a full 180 degrees and also fold inwards, allowing you to literally bunch them up into a compact form factor and carry them along. I mean, that sounds simple, but we are unable to do that with many headphones even now, and that includes Bluetooth headphones that are supposed to be portable (yeah, I am looking at you, Sony, Apple, and Bose).
There is a fundamental carry bag (bag, not box) in the box, but honestly, these headphones are so tough that you can literally chuck them into a bag without any worry. Some metal inside the padded band connects the two ear cups together, but these are mostly plastic and terrific advertisements for the material. There is a fair bit of ATH branding on the headphones – the band has Audio-Technica written across on it, and each cup has got the logo (a stylized A, which will remind some of the Avengers, I suspect – not a bad thing) on the outside with a silver circle around it. There is no chance of anyone mistaking these for another pair of headphones. There is a slot for connecting cables under the left earcup, and the cable locks into the slot, preventing accidental disconnections.
Speaking of cables – there are three in the box: a three-meter (yes!) straight cable for those who want to roam around a little, and a curled cable (which will remind you of the cables on landline telephones). There is also a 6.35 mm adaptor for those who want to plug these headphones into hi-fi equipment or instruments.
The headphones might strike some as being a little large, and at close to 300 grams, they are not exactly light but put them on your head, and it is a fair chance that you will not notice. That is because the weight is well distributed, and the padding on the earpads is very comfortable. The clamping pressure is not too high, and the well-padded headband means you can wear them for hours without too many problems or dangle them around your neck.
As these are very, very well-known headphones, you can get spares and replacements for them very easily, from cables to earpad cushions. It is like having a Maruti 800 variant or a Hero Honda – there will always be someone who will be able to get you a spare part for them or carry out easy repairs. Of course, these are meant only for listening, so there are no microphones – in fact, there are not even any volume controls on them. But in terms of build and comfort, they remain top class.
They sound brilliant, but are not for bassheads
But design is only part (although a major part) of what makes the ATH-M50X special. There is also the matter of sound. And this is another department where the headphones really stand out. The point to remember here is that these headphones are designed for professional and studio use, so do not expect booming bass (thundering drums) or high trebles (sharply clashing cymbals or sharp string sounds) here. Instead, what you will get is extremely clear sound, and if you move the volume up, surprisingly loud sound without any distortion. No, there is no ANC (there seldom is in professional-level headphones, but the padding is excellent and keeps a lot of the external sounds where they belong – outside!
These are the headphones to go for if you want to hear each note clearly, in almost pristine purity. Bass, treble, vocals, everything is in its place, without any excessive stress. Yes, absolute audiophiles will notice that the bass is a little (so little as to be missed by most folks) stressed. As these are closed-back headphones, the sound stage is not the widest (much wider than TWS or anything most Bluetooth headphones have to offer, though). Still, the vast majority of users will simply be busy being dazed at the clarity and quality of sound being delivered.
These are not headphones for those who want “comfort’ or “pleasant” listening, with accented bass and other frequencies. No, these are for those who covet clarity. And because of this, they fit into every slot – you can use them to listen to music, watch a film, play a game, tune into a podcast…anything. And of course, their clarity is of such a level that we have seen them being used by professionals for studios. No, these are not “fun” to listen to. In fact, they might even sound a little “flat” to those expecting boosted frequencies (heavy beats and all). But then, these are not meant for that kind of listening. These are to deliver sound the way it was recorded, and they do come very close in that regard.
For the record, they come with 45 mm neodymium drivers, but as we like to keep stressing, it is not the number that counts but the way in which it has been used and ATH has used it brilliantly. They have an impedance of 38 ohms and will sound best with a DAC, but they sound excellent with most mobile phones and media players too. I used them with an iPhone 12 Pro Max, a Redmi Note 10S, and a OnePlus Nord 2, and the performance was very good in each case.
STILL amazing, still very good value for money
They look decent and have an almost iconic design that is recognizable anywhere. They are built to last. And they sound wonderful. This is why the Audio-Technica ATH M50X are a terrific option for anyone wanting to get into the audiophile world or for anyone who just wants a pair of headphones that sound great without being bass or treble heavy. This is something we need to stress again and again – the sound of the ATH M50X is exceptional, but it is very different from the flavored textures we get from mainstream headphones. Some would say that these do not have the sort of “personality” that a Sony, a Bose, a Skullcandy, or even many of the Sennheiser headphones do.
But then, the ATH M50X were not designed to deliver personality. These are for those who value clarity and purity, and in that department, they are still in a league of their own and can challenge headphones that are priced two to three times more than them. Depending on the color variant you pick, they are generally priced between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 (the Black remains the most affordable and sometimes is even available for less than Rs 10,000). Seven years after they were released, they remain a benchmark in their own right and perhaps the best headphones money can buy in the vicinity of Rs 10,000 if you want pure sound. Seven years. In tech, that is truly “epic.”